I mulled over the index card as my friend handed it to me. It was a mutual friend’s baby shower – much anticipated and long-awaited. She and her husband had lost several babies to miscarriage, so it was an especially joyful occasion. Except I couldn’t quite answer the question posed on the card: “What is your advice for the parents-to-be?”
Years before, at my own shower, moms of every generation – seasoned women married decades with grown children, young moms with large broods of kids in grade school, first-time moms with infants – offered me their own pearls of wisdom: breastfeed for at least a year, because formula is an unhealthy option; have a bassinet in your bedroom so that you can respond immediately to your baby’s cries; don’t leave your baby alone with anyone until she is at least three months old; and so on. I relished those words, and took them to heart.
Shortly after our first daughter, Felicity, was born, I realized that motherhood was no joke. I could barely keep up with constant feedings during those months of sleeplessness that dragged on for what seemed like eternity. I cried as I blamed myself for all sorts of inadequacies: not breastfeeding her longer; not co-sleeping at night; wanting (needing) a break from her every day when my husband came home.
The list was interminable, and I internalized the gnawing feeling of guilt about my new vocation as a mom of this tiny human being. But it wasn’t until that day at the baby shower, when I was pregnant with our third baby and I was discerning what to say to my friend who was only embarking on her journey, that I decided mothers don’t need advice. They need support.
Recalling the years of guilt when societal messages told me I wasn’t getting motherhood “right” led me to a compassionate, but simple response: “Every child is different, and so are you as a mom. God gave you this gift so that you could learn from each other. No manual or guidebook will give you all the answers. Sometimes you have to just pray, trust, and follow your gut.”
Then Veronica, our third daughter, came along. I toted her to mom’s groups and coffee gatherings after Mass, where – to my surprise – a lot of other moms opened up to me about their own feelings of inadequacy, which led me to ponder the why behind it all.
Why do we berate and belittle each other, at least silently, when everyone’s parenting styles and personalities are so different? Why do mothers of all calibers – working moms who use daycare; homeschooling moms who shun even private schools; single moms and military moms; moms of one child and mothers of several – constantly compare and contrast? Our very identities as mothers seem to be contingent upon how other moms, those “super moms” seem to do it all – and then some.
At one point in my naivete, I thought I knew all the “right” things I was supposed to do as a mother. I read all the books. I had taken child development in undergraduate psychology courses. But having two daughters with unique special needs has greatly humbled me. There are no books, no rules, no guidelines on how each of them will develop certain skills or reach particular milestones. Even having one seemingly typical baby has taught me that every single human being is beautifully complex.
I’ve determined, therefore, that motherhood relies heavily on God’s grace and not so much on how-to books, blogs, and conversations. When I’m privy to those discussions among other moms, I try to encourage rather than judge. There’s no room for judgment when we’re all wondering the same thing: whether or not we got any of it right.
What keeps all afloat when motherhood seems more like a battle than a blessing? Handing over, each day, our victories and mistakes to God with the simple prayer, “Lord, please make up for all I lack.” Because the reality is that He does, in fact, compensate for our mistakes. We just have to keep moving forward each new day and surrender our failures at the end of each day.
Copyright 2018 Jeannie Ewing